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WCD: UNICEF warns of 2m child death in 2021

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As the Coronavirus pandemic drags on to 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that an estimated two million child deaths and 200,000 stillbirths could occur over a 12-month period, if severe interruptions to services and malnutrition continue. 

The body gave the warning in a new report, ‘Averting a Lost COVID Generation’, released to mark this year’s World Children’s Day (WCD).

“Since the pandemic started, there has been a false belief that children are not affected by COVID-19,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria. “Nothing can be further from the truth. While children are less likely to have severe symptoms of the illness, they can be infected. The biggest impact by far is the disruptions to key services and increasing poverty rates, which are both having a huge impact on Nigerian children’s education, health, nutrition and well-being. The future of an entire generation is at risk – globally and in Nigeria.”

The UNICEF report discovered that, as of November 3, in 87 countries with age-disaggregated data, children and adolescents under 20 years accounted for one in 9 of COVID-19 infections, or 11 per cent of the 25.7 million infections reported by these countries.

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In Nigeria, children in the same age group accounted for one in 10 infections, or 11.3 per cent of total infections.

“While children can transmit the virus to one another and to older age groups, there is strong evidence that, with basic safety measures in place, the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them”, the report noted. “Schools are not a main driver of community transmission, and children are more likely to get the virus outside of school settings.”

COVID-related disruptions to critical health and social services for children pose the most serious threat to children, the report said.

A new data from UNICEF surveys across 140 countries said: “Around one-third of the countries analysed witnessed a drop of at least 10 per cent in coverage for health services, such as routine vaccinations, outpatient care for childhood infectious diseases, and maternal health services. Fear of infection is a prominent reason.

In Nigeria, the drop was between 17 per cent and 22.5 per cent for select services, compared to figures from 2019 in the same period, and is variable across the country. 

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“There is a 40 per cent decline in the coverage of nutrition services for women and children across 135 countries. In Nigeria, that decline is estimated at 35 per cent. Sixty-five countries, including Nigeria, reported a decrease in home visits by social workers in September 2020, compared to the same time last year.

“An additional 6 to 7 million children under the age of five will suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020, a 14 per cent rise that will translate into more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

“Globally, the number of children living in multidimensional poverty – without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water – is estimated to have soared by 15 per cent, or an additional 150 million children by mid-2020”. 

To respond to the crisis, UNICEF urges all governments and partners to: “Ensure all children learn, including by closing the digital divide; guarantee access to nutrition and health services and make vaccines affordable and available to every child; support and protect the mental health of children and young people and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence and neglect in childhood, among others.

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